Warmup Time

It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting.

It wasn’t even as bad as it could have been under the circumstances.

The Cincinnati Bengals’ 27-7 loss last night to the New York Jets actually had the mark of progress on it. The Bengals held the Jets’ renowned rushing game to 16 yards on 11 carries in the first half. It also held New York to a field goal after the offense turned the ball over deep in Cincinnati territory. It forced the Jets into several three-and-outs.

But, aside from a very nice-looking drive culminating in Cincinnati’s first and only touchdown of the preseason, the offense looked bad. It’s no surprise the Bengals struggled to run the ball (or really even pass it) against the Jets’ vaunted defense, but quarterback Andy Dalton did not look good in his second appearance in Stripes. He finished the night 8 of 19 for just 86 yards with two INT’s.

To be sure, Dalton could have used some help. The offensive line held up well against Rex Ryan’s exotic blitz packages, but his receivers dropped passes, including one by first-round draft choice AJ Green that went off his hands and was intercepted.

But if there is a noticeable trend between Dalton’s first game against Detroit and last night, it is this: he starts slowly.

Against the Lions, Dalton’s first three passes were incomplete, and his very first NFL attempt was picked off. Against the Jets, he whiffed on his first six passes, including the interception off Green’s hands.

In both appearances, he got better. In Detroit, he completed 11 of his next 13 passes, finding receivers despite getting tattooed on a regular basis by Ndamukong Suh and the Lions defensive line.

At the Meadowlands, he directed a 70-yard touchdown drive, completing an electrifying pass to Jordan Shipley at the one-yard-line on third down to set up Brian Leonard’s one-yard run.

But here’s the thing: by the time Dalton got going, the Bengals were already in serious trouble. He was down 14-0 against the Lions before completing a pass. The score was 10-0 against the Jets before Dalton adjusted. (And it should have been a lot worse, given the Jets missed a field goal and failed to recover a Dalton fumble at the one.)

Andy Dalton’s resiliency will serve him well in the NFL. He doesn’t seem to get flustered when things go wrong.

But he can’t take this much time to adjust to an opponent’s defense. He’s absolutely got to come out of the gate accurate and efficient.

Dalton is a rookie, and there is going to be a learning curve. He will make mistakes and some of them will cost the Bengals games. That’s life with a rookie QB in the NFL.

But the Bengals coaching staff needs to focus on having him ready at the opening gun, not midway through the first quarter or early in the second.

If Dalton is going to lead Cincinnati back to the Promised Land, he can’t spend the first part of the game warming up.

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